UPDATE 1-BHP Billiton cutting 2.4 pct of workforce at Chile-based Escondida
(Adds comments from union head)
By Anthony Esposito
SANTIAGO Jan 27 (Reuters) - Chile's Escondida, the world's biggest copper mine, will implement a new round of personnel cuts equal to 2.4 percent of its current workforce as prices for the red metal linger near multi-year lows.
"Escondida is putting in place a plan to reduce the number of employees by 2.4 percent, which is equivalent to around 90 roles," a spokesman for Escondida's controller, global miner BHP Billiton , said on Wednesday.
"That was in response to the continued deterioration of the copper market, which has seen prices drop more than 30 percent over the last 12 months," the spokesman added.
In response to the layoffs, workers have blocked the access road to Escondida, located at high-altitude in Chile's arid north.
"We've been blocking the access road since the early hours of the morning ... at 3 p.m. (local time) we're going to meet with company representatives," said union head Patricio Tapia.
Due to the blocked roads, the mine is operating at 50 percent though the plant is functioning normally, he added.
The Escondida spokesman said he would not comment on the actions taken by protesting workers.
"Escondida is taking advantage of this situation with copper prices to layoff workers that have become a headache for the company because they have professional illnesses or have been hurt in accidents on the job," said Tapia.
In February 2015, Escondida said it had begun a voluntary redundancy program for its workforce as part of an ongoing plan to improve productivity and cut costs. (Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)
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